Middlesex’s flag was included on the registry from its inception. The county’s name is likely to be familiar to most people; it is a county cricket team so is heard often in a sporting context and is found frequently in the titles and descriptions of organisations and buildings. Commercial enterprises often include the name in their designations and additionally the name is in official use as a postal district. Many people however may not realise that Middlesex, as a county, continues to exist. Whilst the Middlesex County Council was abolished in 1965 the county that has existed since Anglo-Saxon times has never been extinguished and whilst many parts of it now lie under an urban sprawl and are administered by a range of different bodies, Middlesex is still with us. In the twenty-first century motorists heading north over Kew Bridge are greeted with a sign reminding them that they are entering the county of Middlesex.
Those entering Uxbridge from Denham see this sign
And another two welcome visitors on the northern boundary with Hertfordshire
entering into Enfield
In the early Anglo-Saxon era the territory of Middlesex originally formed part of the kingdom of the East Saxons. The earliest surviving use of the name Middlesex is in a charter dated 704 granting the estate of Twickenham to Bishop Waldhere, where it appears as Middleseaxan. The name means territory of the Middle Saxons but it is unresolved whether the people were so named from the earliest days or whether this designation arose only after this portion of the kingdom of Essex was absorbed by the Mercians and the inhabitants ceased to be “East Saxons”!The ancient boundaries of the county are the rivers Colne to the west, Lea to the east, Thames to the south, and a ridge of hills to the north, the “Grimsdyke”. Sharing an origin with Essex, the same emblem
bearing three gold hilted, white seaxes on a red background, that represented Essex was also used in Middlesex, by such bodies as militia units and county authorities. A usage admirably demonstrated by the appearance of the seaxes on Thomas Conder’s 18th century “British Traveller” map of the county.
The early history of this emblem as recounted in the account of the flag of Essex also applies to Middlesex.
Cricket club badge where, curiously, the weapons are shown against blue backgrounds. One possible suggestion for this variation is the discrepancy of hatching marks, used to indicate colours in printed works where colour was unavailable. The system of marks was almost universal save for amongst Dutch printers, prolific in producing maps and charts, who often transposed the marks for red and blue. Perhaps this may have been the ultimate source of such variation?
The design of the cricket badge was also flown by the club as a flag.
An account of the early history of the club, however, depicts the three seaxes on a markedly
deep red cover, allowing the blades to appear in a more traditional realisation, also evident in this aged cap
They appear in the pediment of the “Old Middlesex Sessions House” (courthouse) in Clerkenwell, built in 1779,
where the shield is surrounded by a luxuriant growth of oak, which has been described as the “tree of Middlesex” and laurel.
The emblem of The Metropolitan Board of Works,
at Crossness Pumping Station in Kent, completed in 1865, incorporates various arms and emblems, indicating the board’s territorial remit; it includes a shield with the three seaxes, representing Middlesex although again, curiously, the shield is blue. Kent is also amongst the array.
The original arms are further found on a pillar of the aforementioned Kew Bridge,
built in 1903 to link Middlesex and Surrey. The arms appear under a depiction of ‘Old Father Thames’!
Having been formed in 1889, Middlesex County Council applied for distinctive arms of its own in 1910 under the direction of prominent local historian, council chairman and Deputy Lord Lieutenant, Montagu Sharp
The advice of an author on military badges, Colonel Otley Parry, a Justice of the Peace for the county, was sought, for a distinctive charge that would “difference” the arms to be used by Middlesex County Council from those used by their Essex counterparts. The choice was a gold “Saxon Crown”, as appears on a silver penny from the time of King Athelstan, the earliest form of crown associated with the English monarchy. This was duly added over the three seaxes
The grant of arms was made by letters patent, dated 7 November 1910, whilst the original emblem of the three seaxes was formally granted as a coat of arms to Essex Council in 1932.
The newly amended coat of arms can be found over the entrance of the Middlesex Guildhall in Westminster,
which today houses the U.K. Supreme Court and on a stained glass window at the building
Interestingly this depiction incorporates the names of the three rivers which define the true county, west, south and east, in their respective positions, even though Middlesex Council’s remit did not include all the territory encompassed within these borders.
The arms are also present on Middlesex University located in Hendon, in the north of the county
whose students have rendered the modern form of the emblem, used by the university, in lego!
The post 1910 arms are also found on the aqueduct that runs by the North Circular Road in Brent.
and a striking metallic Middlesex shield
is located on the ceiling of the Metropolitan Bar in Marylebone.
Another fine example of the post 1910 Middlesex Arms is found in Park Royal
splendidly painted in vivid colours.
Although the amended arms are historically attested as being devised in 1910 it is worthy of note that there are several instances of the traditional seaxes adorned with a crown as an additional item of regalia but not within the shield; the frontispiece of this 1861 account of Middlesex in the Domesday Book
this elaborate stonework in Sunbury
and this military badge of a Middlesex regiment
Whilst the Sunbury monument’s date is unknown, it may have been commissioned after the council adopted its new arms, the fact that the crown is not shown as part of the design on the shield itself but sits over it, suggests that it is not a formal set of arms but an artistic enhancement, predating the 1910 award of arms to the council. With the same arrangement in the 1861 publication and on the military badge, it seems plausible that the combination of crown and seaxes was already a common theme, which may have further inspired the design of the new arms eventually adopted by Middlesex County Council.
The depiction of the blades themselves seems to have evolved over the years. Whilst some assert that the notches seen on the blades in the Middlesex and Essex flags were used to prise open oysters, a common food on the Essex coast, they are not present on existing seaxes, such as this one
displayed in the London museum (missing the original wooden handle). Gouging chunks out of a weapon like this would seemingly weaken its solidity and usefulness. Existing examples of seaxes
are also not curved like scimitars. These characteristics seem to be the products of 19th century heraldic fashion! Diana Willment, on a Brentford history blog writes
“I have long been intrigued by seaxes. Why do the blades each have a huge notch in the back? What blacksmith would damage the strength and flexibility of his fine forgework in such a way? What could be more impractical in use? A quick trip to London Museums found 5 genuine seaxes, although the perishable hilts do not survive. A trawl through the internet confirmed my findings. The seaxe was not a curved scimitar missing a disfiguring bite but a strong and practical weapon and tool. The blades varied in length from 3 to 30 inches and were straight, unnotched and very sharp. They were solidly triangular in cross-section with a long and lethal point; the larger ones were quite heavy. A few were decorated with linear designs near the back, a very few had an owner’s name.
So when did the notches appear? Next a visit to the College of Arms. Here it was clear that seaxes in early heraldry were straight and unnotched. Only later did they become curved and notched. There was apparently a gradual transition during the 19th century. Possibly there were in that century Heralds of an artistic turn of mind who had, or sought, no access to the genuine article.
The last question was why did the notches appear? The only clue I came across was a description of the seaxe as sometimes grooved. Some blades had lengthwise grooves along or near the back. There could be several reasons for this, one being to lighten it as a weapon. A carefully designed groove would not necessarily reduce the strength of the blade, unlike a notch which cuts across the inner patterning and can only weaken its structure. There is the possibility that at some time “groove” became confused with “notch” with the result we see. A misunderstanding…”
At its website the County Of Middlesex Trust/Middlesex Federation which campaigns to affirm the continuing existence of the county, asserts that “the arms of the County of Middlesex are three seaxes pointing upwards” and that “Before the County Council was created, arms were unofficial: the official arms of the County Council reversed the seaxes and added the Saxon crown.” suggesting that in earlier centuries, when depicted, the seaxes would have been inverted– this is evident in the above Thomas Conder map. Accordingly the logo of the Trust
features a red shield bearing three upturned seaxes against a map of the county. From 1910 to 1965 the arms of the crown and seaxes remained the property of the Middlesex County Council as the “armigers” or arms holders. That body was abolished in 1965 and as there was no longer any arms holder, upon the creation of its registry, the Flag Institute took the view that the arms
and an armorial banner
formed from them, had effectively been released to the public. The banner was therefore included on the registry as the county flag of Middlesex and was designated as a traditional design on the basis that the essential pattern of three seaxes had been used there for centuries. Seaxes are naturally common in the heraldry of the county’s towns and boroughs and are seen below in the civic arms of Acton, Brentford and Chiswick, Wembley, Ealing and Hayes and Harlington
and the Saxon crown has also become a common charge in English civic arms.
The arms of the county and several of its towns appear in this poster.
The Middlesex emblem is deployed by a number of county organisations. Sporting bodies using the crown and seaxes include the Middlesex Football Association; Middlesex County Archery Association (shown below in two forms); the county Swimming association; Middlesex Badminton Association; Middlesex Netball Association; Middlesex Bowling Association; Middlesex Darts, Middlesex Golf Union, Middlesex Table Tennis Association and Middlesex Hockey, which appears to use two versions of the seaxes, one with the crown which strongly resembles the old council arms and another with reversed blades and no crowns, which resembles the former badge of the county cricket team and that of the Middlesex rugby team, although with a distinct blue frame around a red field, rather than the straight blue field found on those two badges.
In 2017 Middlesex Cricket club adopted a new badge based more closely on the county flag
some one hundred and seven years after the crown had been added to the county emblem to distinguish it from neighbouring Essex!
Middlesex Football Association also revised its badge
Until 2017 the crown and seaxes also appeared on the badge
adopted by Brentford football club in 1996, the only professional club in the county to acknowledge its true county status in this manner. Further examples of other, amateur, football teams in Middlesex making use of the Middlesex emblem can be found here
Non-sporting bodies which use the crown and seaxes include, as seen, Middlesex University; the Middlesex Volunteer Regiment; Middlesex Law Society, a county hospital; a county family history society; the former Middlesex Fire Brigade and the county automobile club, in two depictions. The county’s branch of the Women’s Institute, however, retains the former depiction of the seaxes, without the crown added in 1910, found in the former Middlesex cricket and rugby badges.
“The Seaxe” is also the name of the society’s quarterly journal.
Curiously another Middlesex flag has been reported, in the 1953 volume ‘The Book Of Flags by Campbell and Evans’ (page 48);
The three seaxes are depicted all in gold (yellow) on the familiar red shield but are inverted in relation to their usual depiction, this orientation being that described by the Middlesex County Trust as the original form of the arms used in the county. The blades also lack the usual notch. The shield sits at the centre of a Saint George’s cross. A coloured illustration of the flag described, has been completed
The accompanying text elaborates no further upon the provenance of this flag and does not indicate where it might have been raised but at an event at the Middlesex Guildhall on July 31st 2013, to commemorate the centenary of the building, it was revealed that amongst the items unearthed for the exhibition was a letter written in 1913 by the County Clerk to the Justices, asking for a Middlesex County Flag to fly at the opening of the new Guildhall in December that year. The description of the flag was a red cross with the shield of Middlesex and a coronet. There is no proof that such a flag flew at the event or was ever manufactured but clearly the design, minus the coronet, was still known some five decades later when it appeared in the above mentioned volume. Was the reference to the coronet in fact the Saxon crown added to distinguish Middlesex’s arms from those of Essex? While county flags have only really come to the fore in the past couple of decades it is interesting to see that such an idea was already proposed a century ago. Perhaps this too was the concept of the industrious Montagu Sharp? The form of the proposed flag and its timing allows for the possibility that this proposal may have been influenced by the regional flag of East Anglia, created in 1900 and also a red cross on white with a shield at its centre, displaying the East Anglian arms.
And the former Middlesex Guildhall itself, which now houses the UK Supreme Court, flies another peculiar arrangement of its own, on Middlesex Day, which places the arms of the Middlesex Council as a shield in the middle of a white cloth
And yet another Middlesex flag is believed to have been borne by the Home Guard, Wembley Battalion Watch c. 1940. As can be seen the seaxes and crown from the council arms have been re-worked in an alternative and distinct arrangement.
part of the aforementioned Middlesex Federation, campaigns to preserve the status and recognition of the county. It has created a fun themed county map
and a cheerful cartoon character named Selwyn Middlesaxon
is used to promote its cause. Recognition of a county day is also part of the campaign and in 2011 the Middlesex flag flew outside Eland House, the London headquarters of the Department of Communities and Local Government, on Middlesex Day, May 16th,
This date had been chosen as the county day to mark the brave actions of the Middlesex Regiment at the battle of Albuhera on 16 May 1811, so the occasion was particularly significant being the bicentenary of the battle. The commemoration was marked by comments from;
Eric Pickles, Communities Minister, who stated; “Middlesex retains its place in people’s memories and affections, despite attempts to wipe it off the map. The historic English counties are one of the oldest forms of local government in Western Europe. Their roots run deep. And no amount of administrative reshuffling can delete these longstanding and cherished local identities.;
Middlesex MP John Randall, who said “I am absolutely delighted that the Department of Communities and Local Government has been recognising our historic British counties. For those of us fortunate to be from Middlesex to see our county flag flying bravely on Middlesex Day from a Government building is a great moment.This will show that although the county is no longer an administrative county it is very much still a part of our nation. We can celebrate too the exploits of those brave men who fought 200 years ago at the Battle of Albuhera and our flag will help to keep their proud memory and our county’s history alive for future generations.”;
and Middlesex county campaigner and author of The Real Counties of Great Britain, Russell Grant, who reflected that; “Middlesex was first founded in Saxon documentation in704 AD in a geographical description of Twickenham as being in Middlesex. Since local government counties were only created in 1889, it is a pity that over a thousand years of local heritage and national history of our counties, such as Middlesex, is lost because of a lack of a short-lived County Council. Of course, the County of Middlesex – an entirely separate and different entity – continues to exist as it has done for 1300 years but the lack of understanding of modern media and by-passing of local history in our schools has created an historical and geographical vacuum. We hope, in time, our Government will right the wrongs of previous administrations by protecting the identity and integrity of our counties that are at the very fabric of our English nationhood.”
May 16th, Middlesex Day, commemorated by the Middlesex Federation.
The county’s flag displayed at its highest point, a snowy Bushey Heath;
flown across the county;
and enthusiastically wielded here at Glastonbury music festival